Ryan Saunders

Wolves Notes: Saunders, Teague, Free Agents, Towns

While the Timberwolves would like to return to the playoffs this season, the focus will be on building long-term success, head coach Ryan Saunders tells Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Last year’s 36-46 disappointment began with a chaotic training camp that opened amid a trade demand from Jimmy Butler and a public war with ownership and coach Tom Thibodeau. Saunders, who took over the team at midseason, says the road toward rebuilding will start with a much calmer camp.

“I think you need to look at it in different scopes and see where you are at certain points of the season,” he said. “We’re not looking to just get into the playoffs for one year. That’s not our goal. And we understand that. So with that, you want to make sure you’re building for sustainable success. You want to make sure you’re doing the right things each day.”

There’s more from Minnesota:

  • This will be a pivotal season for Jeff Teague after he opted in for another year at $19MM, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Teague was a favorite of Thibodeau, who saw the point guard as a stabilizing presence on a team of veterans. However, he’s coming off the worst season of his 10-year career and doesn’t seem to be in the plans for the new management team, which tried to sign D’Angelo Russell in free agency and wanted to land Darius Garland in the draft. Teague hopes to be healthier after missing 40 games last season with a variety of injuries and undergoing ankle surgery in April.
  • The Wolves will have limited options to find a point guard on the free agent market next summer, observes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Kyle Lowry will be the top name on the list, but he’ll be 34 and won’t fit in with the team’s youth movement. Dejounte Murray could be a restricted free agent if he doesn’t reach an extension with the Spurs, but San Antonio is likely to match any offer sheet. Fred VanVleet could be available, but the Wolves would face a competitive market for him. Krawczynski adds that Minnesota may take another shot at Russell, trying to swing a deal with the Warriors in February if Klay Thompson is close to returning to action.
  • In a separate story, Krawczynski examines the questions surrounding every player on the Wolves’ roster heading into camp, including the importance of Karl-Anthony Towns becoming the team leader, whether Andrew Wiggins can fix his game and what newcomers Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell will bring.

Northwest Notes: Schroder, Timberwolves, Bol Bol

The possibility of Dennis Schroder getting traded by the Thunder will increase once the regular season begins, Brett Dawson of The Athletic opines. Schroder’s presence on the roster made more sense with a team built around stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Schroder is likely to get fewer minutes on a rebuilding club with two other natural point guards ahead of him, but once teams get a better look at their rosters and more free agents are eligible to be traded after December 15, Schroder could be on the move, Dawson adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves want their G League affiliate in Iowa to mimic what the parent club is doing, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. Iowa coach Sam Newman-Beck will employ similar systems, both a motion offense and switching defense, to what Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders is running with the Timberwolves. “We want the players when they’re coming to Iowa or going to Minnesota to feel like it’s the same playbook, that there’s no change,” Newman-Beck said.
  • Rookie center Bol Bol‘s two-way contract with the Nuggets runs for the maximum of two years, Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights tweets. He’ll receive $50K guarantees in each of those seasons. Denver’s lack of a G League affiliate complicate its plans for Bol’s development. However, the Nuggets have successfully utilized a number of teams for their two-way players in past seasons, according to Adam Johnson of 2Ways10Days.com.
  • The Jazz are among the teams with official full 20-man rosters heading into training camp.

Northwest Notes: Whiteside, Grant, Gilgeous-Alexander, Jazz

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard believes he can bring out the best of Hassan Whiteside, the enigmatic center acquired from the Heat as part of the multi-team Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Lillard has a good friendship with Whiteside and that should help prevent Whiteside from getting over-emotional, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“I said, ‘So this is what this is going to come down to: If in the middle of the game, you are not getting the ball and you mad, and you felt like somebody should have done something, you come and say something to me,” Lillard said. “And if (Trail Blazers) Coach (Terry Stotts) is getting on you, or Coach takes you out and you get mad at Coach, me and you have to be able to communicate. Even if we argue, that’s fine. But we have to be able to get through to each other.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone is thrilled with the acquisition of forward Jerami Grant from the Thunder, as he told Alex Labidou of the team’s website. He believes Grant will mesh well with franchise player Nikola Jokic and significantly improve the team’s defense. “Watching film, he’s guarded Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, the guy can guard anybody,” Malone said. “I think that versatility is exciting.”
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gives the Thunder a long-term answer at point guard who may have a better future than Paul George, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes. Gilgeous-Alexander is nine years younger than George, Tramel notes, and he displayed better defensive and shooting skills than Russell Westbrook did in his rookie year.
  • Jazz center Rudy Gobert shrugs off the Clippers’ acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and George, confident that the Jazz have done enough this offseason to become serious contenders. “We don’t want to pay too much attention into what the other teams are doing,” Gobert told Tony Jones of The Athletic. “We want to keep working hard, and we want to stay hungry. We know what we have to do. Whenever we step out onto the court, the goal is to win. We know that we have a chance to do some good things this year. But we want to take things one step at a time.”
  • The Timberwolves have brought back Bryan Gates as an assistant coach under Ryan Saunders, according to an Associated Press report. Gates has been on the Kings’ staff the last three seasons but spent the 2015/16 season with Minnesota.

D’Angelo Russell Has T-Wolves Atop Wish List

Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting that Nets’ restricted free agent point guard D’Angelo Russell has the Timberwolves at the top of his free-agent wish list. Stein adds that while the Lakers still have undeniable interest in Russell, Minnesota is increasingly confident they can make the necessary salary-cap moves to land the 23-year-old All-Star.

The T-Wolves are expected to meet with Russell in Los Angeles this evening at the beginning of free agency. The meeting will reportedly feature new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, head coach Ryan Saunders, and Russell’s good friend, Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Wolves currently project to be an over-the-cap team, but the Nets have already indicated that they’d be willing to entertain a sign-and-trade arrangement that would enable Russell to reach a destination of his choosing. The most likely salary-matching pieces, however, are Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, both of whom the Nets have no interest in whatsoever. As such, Minnesota would likely need to throw in some other assets to make the deal worthwhile to Brooklyn.

Minnesota could also attempt to trade some combination of Wiggins, Teague, Gorgui Dieng, and Robert Covington to open up cap space, but it’s unclear at this point what teams, if any, are interested in acquiring one or more of those players.

Stein’s Latest: Capela, Gordon, Tucker, Lakers, Wolves, Grizzlies

When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Rockets were making virtually everyone on their roster besides James Harden available in trade talks, it was presented as general manager Daryl Morey doing his due diligence and being open to all options. Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta later praised Houston’s starting five and predicted it would return intact next season.

In his latest newsletter, however, Marc Stein of The New York Times paints a different picture. According to Stein, the Rockets are “actively” exploring the trade market for possible deals involving Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and/or P.J. Tucker. One source with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Stein that Houston is operating as if at least one of those three players won’t be on the roster next season.

Gordon, who has one year and $14MM left on his contract, and Tucker, who has about $16MM+ left over two years, may be easier for the Rockets to move than Capela, since they’re veterans capable of fitting in anywhere and wouldn’t require a long-term salary commitment. However, Capela’s four years of team control may appeal to a club that’s looking for an answer at center and hoping to avoid overpaying a free agent.

As we wait to see what Morey has up his sleeve, here are a few more minor items from Stein:

  • While the amount of years and money the Lakers were willing to offer Tyronn Lue contributed to negotiations breaking down, a disagreement over his staff was also a factor. According to Stein, general manager Rob Pelinka and advisor Kurt Rambis wanted to be able to select Lue’s assistants.
  • The Timberwolves are taking a similar approach under new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, according to Stein, who notes that Rosas brought back Ryan Saunders but dismissed his entire staff. Stein writes that Saunders wanted to hire Sidney Lowe as his lead assistant, but was rebuffed by management.
  • The Grizzlies, the only team still seeking a new head coach, are believed to be considering a new bench model. Memphis wants to have at least one of its assistant coaches hold a dual title that includes some personnel responsibilities, says Stein.

Southeast Notes: Allen, Hornets Workouts, Beal, Young

Malik Allen was the only member of Tom Thibodeau’s former staff who was retained by the Timberwolves after Ryan Saunders had the interim tag removed earlier this week. However, Allen may be on the move as well. He has emerged as a prime candidate to replace Juwan Howard on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Howard left the Heat to take the University of  Michigan head coaching job.

We have more from the Southeast Division:

  • The Hornets are bringing in six prospects for a workout on Saturday, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer tweets. That group includes Ar’Mond Davis (UC Santa Barbara), Jon Axel Gudmundsson (Davidson), Nathan Knight (William & Mary), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Josh Reaves (Penn State) and Quinndary Weatherspoon (Mississippi State). Weatherspoon, a shooting guard, heads that group as ESPN Jonathan Givony’s No. 57 overall prospect.
  • Bradley Beal didn’t become eligible for a supermax extension as he was left off the All-NBA teams. The Wizards shooting guard could still be on the move this summer, Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington writes. If Washington decides to rebuild, it could trade Beal for assets and salary cap space. In Standig’s view, the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks could be among the most likely destinations, particularly if they strike out in pursuit of high-level free agents.
  • Hawks point guard Trae Young believes his style of play will help bring in quality free agents, as he declared in an interview with 92.9 The Game (hat tip to E. Jay Zarett of the Sporting News). “If you’re looking to have the ball in your hands, if you’re looking to score a lot of points – I mean, a lot of players in the league know if you come play with me, I’m going to make sure I get you the ball,” Young said. “I think that’s something that attracts a lot of big players.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, MPJ, Exum, Wolves

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, who earned All-NBA First Team honors this season, expects to play for Serbia this summer in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and is confident the club can win a medal, as he tells Serbian outlet Tanjug (translation via Emiliano Carchia of Sportando). Jokic wasn’t on Serbia’s roster for the 2014 World Cup, but he did join the squad for the 2016 Olympics. In both instances, Serbia lost the championship game to Team USA and took home silver medals.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Nuggets are attempting to balance optimism and caution when it comes to 2018 first-rounder Michael Porter Jr., who is expected to make his professional debut in Summer League play this July, writes Alex Labidou of Nuggets.com.
  • Injured Jazz point guard Dante Exum is trying to focus on the positives as he goes through another rehab process, per Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com. “It’s frustrating to go into an offseason injured,” said Exum, who underwent knee surgery in March. “But I’ve thrown a lot of my energy and time into planning what my offseason will look like so I can be the best player I can be coming out of it.”
  • After participating in Houston’s free agent minicamp this week, veteran guard Xavier Munford will attend a similar camp hosted by the Timberwolves during the first week of June, tweets Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News. Munford last played in the NBA in 2017/18, when he appeared in six games for Milwaukee.
  • Sid Hartman of Star Tribune examines the Timberwolves‘ decision to retain head coach Ryan Saunders, including how big a factor Glen Taylor‘s support of Saunders was.

Timberwolves To Make Sweeping Staff Changes

The Timberwolves will be making extensive changes to their coaching staff, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reports.

Every assistant with an expiring contract — Ed Pinckney, Jerry Sichting, Larry Greer, John Lucas III and Dice Yoshimoto — will not return on Ryan Saunders’ staff as the organization distances itself from the Tom Thibodeau era. Saunders had the interim tag removed on Monday. The only assistant with a year left on his contract, Malik Allen, will be retained.

New president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas wants to split up duties more like a football staff. “We’re going to get the best offensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best defensive coordinator. We’re going to get the best player development coordinator,” Rosas said. “They’re going to execute our vision together. And Ryan will manage that program as a whole.”

We have more on the Timberwolves:

  • Adding players with a defensive mentality is a priority, Krawczynski adds in the same story. The team wants to utilize a more switch-heavy scheme to defend 3-point shooters. “I’ve got to help (Saunders),” Rosas said. “We’ve got to surround our team, our best players with personnel that will be complementary to them and we need more defenders.”
  • The team’s most notable players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, attended Saunders’ press conference and gave him ringing endorsements. “I think this is a very positive change,” Wiggins told Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and other media members. “You can see the fresh air, you can see the faces and the positive energy in the air. Everyone is happy for Ryan — you don’t see negative faces, everyone is happy and we’re supportive.”
  • The decision to retain Saunders was a bow to Towns and his importance to the franchise’s long-term future, Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune writes. Towns respects and trusts Saunders and feels rejuvenated about the franchise’s direction, Scoggins notes. That’s crucial, because the Timberwolves can’t afford to alienate their best player to the point where an ugly divorce becomes inevitable, Scoggins adds.

Ryan Saunders To Remain Timberwolves’ Head Coach

3:15pm: The Timberwolves have officially confirmed that Saunders has been named the team’s permanent head coach.

“I’m pleased to announce Ryan Saunders as our head coach,” Rosas said in a statement. “Ryan is an excellent communicator and has developed open and trusting relationships with our players. I’ve known Ryan for many years and have always respected his approach to the game, work ethic, basketball knowledge and passion. His coaching style and philosophies are ideal for the modern NBA and I am confident that as a partner he will get the most out of our players as we build an identity and a sustainable winning model.”

8:42am: Saunders and the Timberwolves are now in agreement on a multiyear deal that will make him the team’s permanent head coach, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (via Twitter).

7:25am: Despite opening up their search for a permanent head coach last week, the Timberwolves are prepared to remove Ryan Saunders‘ interim title and retain him going forward, according to reports from Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter links).

Krawczynski first reported that the Timberwolves and Saunders are negotiating a new contract that is expected to be finalized in the coming days. Per Wojnarowski, Saunders is already working on putting together his staff for the 2019/20 season.

The general consensus among Wolves players, including Karl-Anthony Towns, was that Saunders should be brought back, but new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas did his due diligence after assuming control of the club’s front office earlier this month.

Heat assistant Juwan Howard, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Pelicans assistant Chris Finch, and Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool all received consideration from Minnesota for the team’s head coaching job. Ultimately, the Wolves circled back to Saunders, who will become the NBA’s youngest permanent head coach. Flip Saunders‘ son turned 33 last month.

Having taken over on the sidelines for the Wolves after Tom Thibodeau was dismissed halfway through the 2018/19 season, Saunders guided the team to a 17-25 (.405) record in his first stint as a head coach. He had to deal with injuries to several rotation players during that stretch, with Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague, and others missing significant chunks of the second half.

According to Krawczynski, Rosas is said to favor the Rockets’ model of having a defensive specialist complement the head coach. In Houston’s case, that meant Jeff Bzdelik playing a key role on Mike D’Antoni‘s staff. The Wolves will likely hire their own defensive guru, and will also focus on adding player-development specialists to Saunders’ staff.

With the Wolves set to formally reach a deal with Saunders, the Grizzlies will be the only NBA team still in the market for a new head coach, as our tracker shows.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Wolves Begin Head Coaching Search; Saunders Still ‘Prominent’ Candidate

Having settled into his new role in Minnesota, Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas has decided to launch a search for the club’s head coaching position, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders, who had widely been viewed as a strong bet to keep the job, will remain a “prominent” candidate, according to Wojnarowski, but the team will interview outside candidates as well. League sources tell Woj that Heat assistant Juwan Howard and Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool are among those will meet with the Wolves about the position.

Howard and Vanterpool have been popular targets so far this spring for teams making head coaching changes. Howard interviewed with the Lakers and Cavaliers, while Vanterpool has met with the Cavs and Suns.

[RELATED: 2019 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Wojnarowski reports that Howard is expected to meet with Rosas during this week’s draft combine, while Vanterpool will likely connect with Rosas later in the week.

As for Saunders, he has made a strong impression on team ownership since taking over for Tom Thibodeau on Minnesota’s bench during the 2018/19 season, according to Wojnarowski. Saunders has also impressed Rosas, having met with him for “a dozen or so hours” since the former Rockets exec was hired. Nonetheless, the Wolves want to consider all their options before simply handing the reins to Saunders on a permanent basis.